If I had to sum up Playstation’s GDC message in one sentance, it would be: “The PS3 really is super awesome, check out all this cool stuff we have in the pipeline!” If you asked me to do the same for Nintendo, though, it would probably be “We’re friends – let’s talk about our design philosophy so you can learn from it.” Personally, I find the latter message a bit more appealing as it is more tangible, and, quite frankly, the Wii has more credibility in my book at the time being (though I do want the PS3 to succeed on the same level as it’s predecessor.)
That said, it wouldn’t have killed Nintendo to make a *few* more announcements. With the exception of a multiplayer playable demo of the new Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, I didn’t see or hear anything truly exciting. As for Phantom, while the single player game certainly looks like a fun DS version of the Wind Waker, the multiplayer part wasn’t terribly impressive. At it’s core a fun “hide-and-seek” concept, it is strictly one on one, and damningly has NO ELEMENT OF ZELDA GAMEPLAY. There are no swords, no boomerangs, and no dive-rolls with a pleasurable “HAA!” In fact, you could replace link and all the other objects in the game with kittens and dogs, the game would look the same. As a result, the functionality seems tacked on, and makes me wonder why they didn’t take more time to really get that Zelda feel that we fans love so much.
Nintendo’s biggest newsmaker of the day was the keynote delivered by the company’s creative director Shigeru Miyamoto. Miyamoto, the mastermind behind Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong, talked somewhat informally about the design principles of Nintendo, and then his own personal take on game creation. The keynote was not nearly as announcement heavy as the previous day’s; indeed, only a brief video was shown of the upcoming Super Mario Galaxy, which was not very different than the one shown last year. In my opinion, though, Miyamoto more than made up for this with interesting anecdotes and an engaging narrative that followed through his career from a non-gamer point of view. Specifically, through a dynamic wife-o-meter, which showed his wife’s (growing) interest in games as time went on and technology and game design improved.
I personally felt this wife-o-meter was an apt analogy, as it touched on the important issue of the growing female demographic. More and more, women are playing and buying video games, and are shattering the notion that women are only “casual” gamers. As I sat in various conference halls, I noticed (anecdotal evidence alert!) that there were more women playing with their DS’s than men! And they weren’t just playing “fluffy” games like Nintendogs either, but “hardcore” ones like Final Fantasy 3 and Mario Kart.
This shift is reflected in the changes being seen in industry. Development teams, typically mostly or entirely male, are beginning to realize that they can’t just make games for themselves anymore, but have to design games that appeal more to a broader user base (which is always a good design practice in general.) Likewise, as women dive into gaming more than they have historically, more women get jobs in the field, which then in turn helps the design process and pushes innovation, something desperately needed in an industry dominated by sequels.
Tomorrow I’ll conclude my coverage of GDC with a segment on the often overlooked area of game accessibility. In the mean time, how did my friend Kristina fare on her mission? Well, she tried everything; flattery, intimidation, humor, threats, and bribery, but unfortunately walked away without the Miyamoto-signed DS she had her heart set on. Will there be happy ending to her story?
No, probably not.